Leo Francis' Exclusive Interview with Graham Skipper (Almost Human)
A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending the opening of Almost Human at Arena Cinemas in Hollywood. In attendance were the director and stars of the film, Joe Begos, Josh Ethier, and Graham Skipper who stayed around for an intriguing Q&A with the audience where they discussed their influences and a little bit about what went into making the film. But I have to admit, I liked this film so much that I wanted to ask them some questions of my own. Their film is one of the most fun movie going experiences I have had in some time (read my review here), so I was thrilled when star of the film, Graham Skipper, agreed to sit down and answer some questions in my exclusive interview for The Children of Samhain.
Leo Francis: You starred in Late Bloomers when you were really young, what got you into acting?
Graham Skipper: I've been acting for as long as I can remember. My dad was an actor for many years, appearing on shows like General Hospital, Dallas, Falcon Crest, Walker, Texas Ranger and TV films and stuff. So growing up it was part wanting to do what my dad did but also just loving performing, being on stage, and when you're a kid there's nothing like getting applause when you sing a song on stage. So then around 6th grade I auditioned for Late Bloomers and got it, and had a wonderful experience, got to go to Sundance with the film...it was really special. And it never stopped after that!
LF: How did you become involved with Almost Human? I see he is thanked in your short Scratches, did you know Joe Begos before this project? I heard Joe say that he wrote the role of Mark for Josh, was Seth written for you?
GS: I met Joe while we were both working on RE-ANIMATOR THE MUSICAL under the brilliant, inimitable Stuart Gordon. Joe was our production stage manager and I was playing Herbert West, and we became fast friends. I have always been a huge horror fan, and I think my friendship with Joe probably started with me complimenting his plethora of awesome horror t-shirts, and then him introducing me to ridiculous horror films that I'd never heard of before, and then one day he shows me his short film "Bad Moon Rising" (which is awesome) and said he's written a horror movie and would I be interested in playing the lead? I'm not sure if Seth was 100% written *for* me, but I think he probably altered some stuff to fit my personality. At any rate, saying "yes" was a no-brainer for me.
LF: Can you tell me a little bit about Scratches, the short film you wrote and directed?
GS: Scratches was a short that I made back in like 2011 (before Almost Human) that was a sort of testing ground for myself. Can I write and direct a short? Can I act in it as well? Can I make this thing? So I asked for Joe's help (Josh's too - he did sound on it; and Cory, one of AH's producers and the AC also worked on it), and we made a pretty cool little short! I also edited it, so it took a while to get finished, but it accomplished my goal of teaching me a lot about making movies, and we had a great time.
LF: You had some big shoes to fill in Almost Human, as you had to ground the story so Josh could go over-the-top. You did an amazing job of keeping a sense of realism throughout. How were you able to achieve that in the face of such an extreme premise?
GS: Thank you! You know, my goal as I was reading the script was just to approach this naturally and truthfully. I come from a comedy background, and I feel that the golden rule with comedy is you never play the joke, you play the moment and the joke will follow. It's the same with horror - you don't play the horror, you play the moment and it's the scenario that's scary. With Seth, here's a guy who's had a pretty shitty existence for 2 years, then one day he clocks in at work at 3pm and by like 8pm he's fighting monsters in the woods. It's out of control, he's terrified, he doesn't know what to do - like any of us - so he's going to sort of have to stumble his way to survival. One of my favorite performances of all time is Bruce Campbell in the Evil Dead films (particularly ED2) and he's so good because Ash is a regular guy who's not particularly good at doing much of anything, but by god he's got to survive and so he'll slog his way through anything, and by the end he's a hero. I felt that way with Seth, that he didn't want this situation, but like all of us, when forced into it he'll adapt as best he can.
LF: Your co-star Josh Ethier is a multi-talented man, who is primarily known for his work behind the scenes and in post production as an editor. This is really his first film. What was it like working with a relatively new actor? Did you know him before you started working on the film and if so did that contribute to the chemistry your characters had on screen?
GS: I'd known Josh through Joe as a result of Re-Animator, and got to know him a lot better working on Scratches. The friendship sort of grew organically out of that, and by the time we got to Rhode Island to film AH we were buds. I thought Josh was excellent in the film! I thought Josh brought a real honesty to Mark. He approached it simply, straight-forward, which I think works really well for this alien presence who is sort of infantile in his nature: newborn, with old memories. It's a tough role and Josh tackled it expertly.
LF: There were a lot of practical effects used in the film, though it seems like you lucked out and didn't have to go through too much as far as that. Was it fun to get to work on the set with that? I always prefer practical effects and makeup to CGI. Do you think they make a film more effective, or do you think that the same can be achieved with CGI and visual effects?
GS: From day one Joe was 100% opposed to CGI, and I think for good reason. With practical FX you are there in the room with the thing. The tentacles are really attacking you, the monster is really crawling towards you, the blade is really going through your skin. I'm always sort of baffled by the obsession with CGI. I think a lot of the time it's just lazy filmmaking. It's just easier to "CGI it later" than to take the extra hours to really fine tune it on set to get it right. Joe has that patience, and that perfectionist eye that makes it possible. CGI can be used really well as a supplement to practical fx, and be super effective in that regard (Gollum in LOTR is amazing, films like The Raid use that combo really well, stuff like that), but when you go all George Lucas and think Jabba looks better just cause he's CGI, that's a problem.
LF: I tend to prefer indie-horror films to the big budget studio releases, mostly because the indie film makers are able to take risks they normally wouldn't be allowed to take. I also think that films made on a limited budget force film makers to be more creative, and that it often yields better results. You're a film maker as well as an actor, how true is that in your experience?
GS: Totally agree. The problem with making big budget studio films is just how much money is involved. If you're a studio exec and you've got $30 million riding on this thing, of course you're going to have a hard time just saying "do whatever you want." Makes total sense. But with these smaller films, typically it's the filmmaker themselves and/or a couple other backers who have a (relatively) small amount riding on it, and so the filmmaker just has more freedom to take some risks. It's like if you were betting your money on another guy's blackjack hand. Let's say you know the guy is really good. If you're betting $100, or even $200, you might say "do whatever you want, I trust you." And he'd probably win. But if you have $10,000 riding on it, you're going to be a lot more critical of how he plays it. Personally, I've only had the experience of working on these smaller projects, and I've loved every second of it. I think freedom as a filmmaker is a recipe for success. Art is about making something new, and the more money that gets poured into something, the bigger the tendency to rely on "tried and true" to make that money back. It's a catch 22, but an understandable one.
LF: Speaking of you being a film maker, you're currently working in post-production on your directorial effort, which you also wrote, produced and acted in: Space Clown. What can you tell me about the film? Is it feature length? Is there a projected release date?
GS: Space Clown! You've done your research! Space Clown is the product of an idea that I had one day, which started with, "I want to make a feature film, but I have no money." So I thought, well, found footage movies are made for a reason, plus they're a bit more forgiving on the lighting and sound front, which I admittedly had no idea about. So then I wrote a script which is sort of a spiritual prequel to Killer Klowns from Outer Space (one of my favorite movies) but as a found footage movie, and got my friends to help me make it. It is feature length, and as I'm doing all of the post on it myself (a self-imposed task as a part of this project, like Scratches, was intended to help me learn how to make a movie doing most of the roles myself), and there is no projected release date apart from "finish this fucker!" But it's fun! I'm excited for the world to see it when it's finished.
LF: You seem to be drawn to horror films, is it your favorite genre? What was the film that got you hooked? Almost Human blended elements of an alien abduction movie, with a straight up slasher film. There are so many different sub-genres of horror, do you have a particular favorite?
GS: Yeah, I'm a huge horror fan, and it's definitely my favorite genre. I think the film that "got me hooked" has to be The Exorcist. My parents showed it to me when I was like 14, and I was fucking terrified. Had never been so scared in my life. Then the next morning (a Sunday), after not sleep AT ALL the night before, as soon as the sun rose I was up and I decided to watch it again, to see *why* I was so scared. How had this filmmaker scared me so much? I watched it twice that day, and then had my friends over the next weekend to watch it with me. I loved taking apart the artistry involved in scaring me. Then I guess you could say I became brave and started renting any horror movie I could find. I remember loving In The Mouth of Madness, Event Horizon, Romero's Dawn of the Dead - 28 Days Later was a revelation to me. I like anything inventive and different, I think would be my answer to what my favorite sub-genre is. I dig it all, as long as it's unique.
LF: You've been out promoting the film with Joe and Josh. Where are some of the coolest places you've been and where are you headed next with the film? How have the reactions been from audiences?
GS: Across the board it's been amazing. Toronto was ridiculously cool, and I felt way fancier than I actually am. Fantastic Fest was a drunken, BBQ-filled binge week of incredible films and new friendships. Sitges (in Spain) was amazing and were probably our most vocal audiences... I just got back from NYC with the movie, and Joe and Josh are still out and about in Chicago, then Toronto, and I'm not sure where else. Most importantly, we're IN YOUR HOME...
LF: What scares you? We're all scared of war and disease and unpleasantries like that. But when it comes to horror films, what genuinely scares you?
GS: Without a doubt, going crazy. Not being able to trust yourself. Those were themes I tried to touch on in Scratches, but movies like In The Mouth Of Madness and even The Exorcist, or Communion, or The Shining...the idea of losing your mind really frightens me.
LF: Name one movie you walked out of in the theater.
GS: Proud to say I've never walked out of a movie! I always feel like I already set aside these 2 hours or whatever to see this movie, nothing can be *that* bad. I'm seeing a movie! Now, I've turned off a lot of movies halfway through that I've started on Netflix or whatever, but I've never walked out of one in the theatre. Came close with Freddy Got Fingered, but I powered through. (incidentally, I've found a new appreciation for that movie in recent years)
LF: If you could punch one person in the face, who would it be?
GS: Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church. There's no excuse for breeding hate like that. He's truly a person that makes the world a little worse by being in it.
LF: Has anyone ever made you feel 'star struck'?
GS: A few: meeting Takashi Miike made me bumble like an idiot, but was supremely gracious; Bill Murray was also very nice but yet again I couldn't form words succinctly; and meeting Wes Craven after he saw me in Re-Animator was at once one of the most exciting and nerve-wracking experiences of my life. He was so nice and gracious and complimentary, but of the eight million things I could have discussed with him not a single thing came out of my mouth. Just being in his presence made me speechless.
LF: What's your favorite horror film of all time and / or the scariest film you've ever seen?
GS: Favorite horror film of all time: Suspiria. Unique, totally different from anything else, the sets, the lighting, the sound, the music...all insane, over the top, beautiful, and has the best opening death scene in any movie ever.
Scariest film I've seen: Probably a tie between The Shining and the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Those two movies I still have a hard time watching. They're just so uncomfortable is such different ways! The Shining is so meticulously crafted to maximize fear, but TX Chain Saw is so dirty, and nasty, and cruel, and the fact that it's funny makes it that much more disturbing.
LF: Thanks again for taking the time to do this. It was a pleasure to get to meet you at Arena Cinemas at the opening, and I wish you all the best. Hopefully we'll get a chance to talk again when Space Clown is finished. Until then… be well.
GS: Thank you!
Again, I would like to thank Graham for taking the time to answer my questions. Almost Human is now on VOD and in selected theaters, SEE IT!! You won't be sorry that you did. And you can follow Graham on Twitter @GrahamSkipper. Cheers.
- Leo Francis